Dozens of demonstrators shut down the coffee shop in Philadelphia’s central business district for over three hours Monday morning. The activists came out to protest racial profiling after the store’s manager called police Thursday to remove the men for sitting at a table without buying anything.
“A whole lot of racism, a whole lot of whack,” protesters chanted Monday. “Starbucks coffee is anti-black.”
Several speakers said Thursday’s arrests were the product of institutional racism and a historically oppressive police force.
“This is a systemic issue,” Megan Malachi, one of the protest’s organizers, told local news outlet PhillyVoice. “Everyone in the city government is complicit and so is Starbucks. ... This is outrageous, this is insulting and we are not going to stand for it.”
Later in the day, dozens of clergy members and activists staged an interfaith sit-in inside the coffee shop. The demonstration featured moments of quiet, as well as songs and chants that ranged from “Tell me what theology looks like! This is what theology looks like!” to “Shut it down!”
Video capturing the men’s arrests went viral over the weekend, sparking protests at the store and calls to boycott Starbucks.
“The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything,” author Melissa DePino, who recorded the incident, tweeted last week. “They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing.”
PhillyVoice pointed to a second, longer video uploaded to YouTube that shows an officer telling the men’s friend, Andrew Yaffe, that they were being arrested for “trespassing.” In the video, Yaffe calls what the officers are doing “discrimination.”
Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson apologized for the incident in a statement Saturday and again on Monday during an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“I personally apologize to the two gentlemen that visited our store,” Johnson said. “Certainly, it’s my responsibility to understand what happened and what led to that, and ensure that we fix it.”
Johnson pledged more training for store managers on company guidelines and unconscious bias. He hopes to have a face-to-face meeting with the men so he can apologize in person, the CEO said.
“What happened to those two gentlemen was wrong,” he said. “I’d like to invite them to join me in finding a constructive way to solve this issue.”
The manager who called police Thursday has since left the company, a spokeswoman for Starbucks told PhillyVoice. A sign posted to the store’s window Monday afternoon stated that the location was “temporarily closed,” according to NBC Philadelphia.
This story has been updated with additional information about the store’s temporary closing and the sit-in.